I will be (virtually) attending and speaking at #TMRoehampton this coming Tuesday. I intend to give an update on my current thinking, re: AFL and Google Docs. In preparation I created a new series of slides to support my talk. They can be viewed below, along with some useful, related links.
I recently shared on Google+ how I had been using iPads and Garageband to help my Year 8 class to improve the quality of their writing. This is a reworked version of that post. Thanks to John Johnston and Helen Morgan (amongst others) for sharing their thoughts.
I’ve been using iPads with my Year 8 class to record narrative writing that they have created. I had the students draft a piece of writing based on Down the Rabbit Hole by Lewis Caroll, which they recorded using the iPads. I wanted the students to see how punctuation effected the way the read because after reading the first drafts, I was none too pleased with the standard of their writing.
I uploaded the recordings to the VLE and asked the class to peer assess each others work. Using those comments and some live assessment in Google Docs from me, they created improved narratives with more accurate punctuation and improved vocabulary.
They then recorded their final drafts which we burned to discs. While the drafting/redrafting process is not unusual in the English classroom, recording and evaluating their written work in this way added a new dimension to the learning process. It ensured that every single student’s work was shared without the embarrassment that some students feel standing in front of the class. By putting the audio on the VLE, every student received feedback, which due to time constraints would not happen in a traditional classroom setting. What’s more, I could further differentiate my support by listening and focussing feedback where it was most needed.
To complete the unit I wanted them to present their work effectively. They created a CD cover using drawn or found images, with their narrative writing printed up on the reverse. Giving them a physical artefact to take away that represented their effort and progress was highly motivational and also contributed to the quality of the finished work.
It was a great project to end the year with and the use of the iPads and Garageband made a huge difference to the quality of the students’ work.
Here are two example recordings (personally, I think that the background noise adds to the ambience):
I used SurveyMonkey to get the class to reflect on their use of the iPads and Garageband. Here’s a selection of comments:
“I found it useful because it helps you find your own mistakes”
“I found this useful because I could do y punctuation from listening to it because I would know when to put , and . as I know when I paused and stopped at the end of a sentence”
“It helped me to see where I need to put commas”
The whole process was fabulously straightforward and the sound quality was excellent.
Here are a few tips if you wish to use iPad and Garageband in the same way. Garageband is super easy to use but the default settings can scupper a recording instantly. Before the students hit record make sure that they select the ‘puzzle piece’ in the top left and set the duration to automatic. Not doing so will result in the recording being cut short. Secondly, select the spanner in the top right and turn off the metronome. The iPad will record all sound so it captures the sound of the metronome in the recording.
With those settings sorted you are ready to record. The UI is beautiful and reacts to what you are doing generating relevant buttons, e.g.: when recording a stop button appears and also an undo button to easily take backwards steps. My students found it very easy to use and they (like I was) were really impressed with the sound quality.
What if I don’t have access to iPads and/or Garageband?
I’ve been working with audio/podcasting for over three years now. It is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated mediums in education. Most schools plug for video… it’s usually seen as the obvious choice but there are many activities for which I believe audio to be the best option. Capturing group discussions, for example, is far easier with an audio recorder than a video camera. I do this with my A2 students and then upload the recording to the VLE for them to refer back to and/or download. As it’s an MP3 it is a small file, there is rarely a need to edit, and I find that the students concentrate on what is being said rather than admiring themselves on camera.
I am surprised at the lack of take up when it comes to the use of audio/podcasting in schools because the technology itself is ubiquitous. You don’t need to invest in iPads or Apple Mac computers. Audacity (a free, cross-platform, sound editor) will do the same job as Garageband and most laptops (including notebooks) come with a built in Mic. However, cheap USB Mics are easy to get hold of. This one has done the job for me in the past. Furthermore, nearly all mobile devices have an audio capture function which is easy to manage (audio formats are far more malleable) whereas video recorded on mobile devices can be difficult to use due to variations in format/codec. As John stated: “It can be an instant win pedagogically and motivationally.”
Moreover, both Garageband (built into all Macs) and Audacity are standalone apps which do not require an internet connection. A common complaint from teachers when they look at using technology in the classroom is that the school network or internet is not reliable. In using these apps, or the iPads themselves, there was no reliance on the school network. This gave me and the students confidence that we would complete the task. As Helen noted it’s important to have a “fall back plan”, I briefly considered recording direct into AudioBoo but this could have easily broken down due to a bad network connection or missing plugins such as Java or Flash.
If you think audio could work for you and your students, I recommend that you jump right on in and give it a go. Results can be achieved quickly and in a cost effective way. If you would like further advice on how to use audio in your classroom, please get in touch.
To help clarify my thoughts while writing my School-based Enquiry, I decided it would be helpful to discuss the use of Google Docs in the classroom with a fellow teacher. Oliver Quinlan has been using Google Docs in much the same way as I have and he kindly agreed to be interviewed over Skype. The interview quickly turned into more of a discussion and we ended up talking for 35 minutes. I have broken up the recording into four parts for manageable listening however should you wish to download and listen to a single file, follow this link.
In the discussion we cover everything from collaboration, assessment, live marking, setting up, Google Apps, Moodle, wikis, forums and Google+.
This post is the second in a four two part series, you can read part one here. Having set out a case for social networks in place of VLEs in part one, one of my other criticisms of learning platforms is that many of the tools they come pre-loaded with are simply not up to scratch when compared to the myriad of tools freely available on the World Wide Web.
Collaboration (and a healthy dose of assessment for learning)
Google Docs does collaboration effortlessly and in genuine ‘real time’. This makes it far more powerful than its competitors. I spent more than two years wrestling with the wiki module in Moodle before I made the move to Google Docs. I have never looked back since. The fact is that real time collaboration is far more meaningful for students. They feel empowered by the fact that they can make instant changes instead of having to wait in turn. This has been my main criticism of Moodle, many of the tools lack the instancy that I and my students have come to expect, particularly when it is available in other tools on the Web. I can’t speak to what Diipo will offer in this area but as an avid Google Docs user I can’t see it making me want to switch.
What’s more, as I have already chronicled on this blog, Google Docs offers excellent opportunities for assessment for learning. I use it on almost a weekly basis to develop my students’ peer and self-asasessment skills. I also try to assess as much work as possible using it at the formative stages. My students really enjoy using it.
Oliver Quinlan has also blogged about his use of Google Docs for collaborative assessment. In his concluding comments he discusses the notion of students developing their own workflows. This is an interesting concept, which I insert here, because I have had similar experiences. The wiki module in Moodle is quite cumbersome and in actuality rather than promoting collaboration, inhibits it. Google Docs offers multiple ways for students to collaborate, discuss and edit their work including a simple back channel. My students have thrived using Google Docs and I have found myself rethinking the way I plan these sorts of activities, trying to allow them to tread their own path.
As for security, there is little to be concerned about here. Documents are private by default and can be shared and unshared at the author’s discretion. One of the first things that I discuss with my students is the benefits and potential hazards of sharing information with others, particularly publicly. The benefits of sharing documents though are clear and I can’t think of one collaborative tool offered within a VLE that could generate or reproduce the level of creativity displayed in this video:
A range of apps with infinite possibilities
There are a whole bunch of other useful Google tools that your students can harness via the World Wide Web that won’t be found inside Diipo or Moodle. Lets start with the cornerstone of the web: Search. While some will argue that as the teacher I should curate resources for my students, which I could link to from within the VLE, I would rather teach them to make better use of Google’s excellent search engine. Rather than me trying to write about it, hop on over to Ian Addison’s blog and let him show you some of the hidden tools that can make Google search a highly valuable experience for learners.
Another tool that Google offers is Maps. For this one I’ll let Tom Barrett’s blog do the talking. He made excellent use of it during all that snow we experienced last year.
Nearly all Google apps (Scholar, Books, Earth, YouTube) offer valuable learning opportunities but none are tied down within a learning platform. They are free and available online. The only thing that will stop you using them is your imagination and possibly your schools internet service provider (you might have to get them unblocked). Every Google app I have used with my students has worked well, I can’t say the same for some of the tools I have tried in Moodle.
If you want to get more out of using Google apps with your students you should definitely check out Richard Byrne’s guides and tutorials on his blog. Or check out the excellent range of teaching ideas for Google Search, Docs, Forms, Maps and Earth from Tom Barrett’s Interesting Ways series.
It’s not all about Google though, there are many other apps out there that are worth using with your students. One I use a lot is Lino it. Lino allows you to add sticky notes to a canvas. It is great for starters, plenaries, homework. I can begin a discussion with it in one lesson and then re-use it for homework the next. The principal of mind-mapping or generating ideas could be done in a forum on Moodle I guess but it can’t be re-ordered afterwards, it can be reused in half as many ways. I have written about Lino in more detail here.
In a recent Moodle training session I delivered I used Lino to get feedback at the end. The 16 teachers who attended were more wowed by Lino than they had been by everything we had covered in Moodle. I wonder if its because it took them less than two minutes to figure it out. Shouldn’t VLEs be that easy?
Another fantastic tool is Voicethread. It allows you and your students to comment on text, audio and video, giving you something that can be referred back to later and, like Google Docs, is fantastic for formative assessment. Check out what David Mitchell and his Year 6 class have been doing with it at Heathfields.
Is a learning platform necessary?
I can already see that one of the responses levied at me will be: “Having a VLE doesn’t mean you can’t make use of these tools, you can link to them or embed them within it.” However, the notion of adding or embedding links within a VLE makes me ask: Is the VLE necessary at all? If I’m going to go outside of the VLE to find tools that I actually want to use and believe that my students will enjoy, can’t I curate those on a well managed website or a blog. Why do I need to invest in VLE to do that?
And in the current climate, with funding in education being the way it is, would I not be better off encouraging staff to take a pick n’ mix approach to IT based tools rather than buying into a heavy duty content management system that needs to be paid for (there are servers that need to be maintained after all) and having to employ someone to look after it? When that person is let go because the school can’t afford to pay them anymore, who is going to help fix broken VLE pages or modules? If Google Docs has a problem there are a whole team at Google who will sort it out and it won’t cost the school a penny.
Natalie Laferty responding to part 1 of this series on Twitter yesterday shared this post with me. Two students, at the University of Pennsylvania, created their own learning platform in response to their dislike of Blackboard, describing it as: “overloaded with features and dreadfully designed, making simple tasks difficult”. Perhaps, that is part of the problem; VLEs are suffering from ‘feature bloat’. If they were stripped back they might have more of a purpose.
In part three: blogging, file sharing and the importance of the hyperlink.